When Shepherds keeping watch, saw a great sight

As a child I was versed in stories of Wise Men whose learning of stars and planets revealed a great child would be born.  These early stories taught that learning the night sky could lead to knowledge and even wisdom beyond the ordinary. And it was very mysterious. The celebration of this birth was eventually placed by the church at the time of the Roman winter festivals of Mirtha and Saturn. It is no coincidence that these festivals occur at the time of the winter solstice.

Growing up in the southwest meant encountering other mysteries about astronomy and religion. Chaco Canyon haunted my childhood imagination. Understanding keys of Chaco, how it marks the exact yearly and decade’s long wanderings of the sun and moon came slowly from archeoastronomy. The depth of this mystery grew for us over these years. Here was a recent primitive society whose advanced knowledge of the sky allowed them to develop agriculture. With agriculture came a sophisticated, structured society. This was possible due to their understanding of the movement of the sun, moon and stars. Their villages and buildings formed a giant observatory both locally and across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. What they observed gave great value to their everyday lives. The summer and winter solstices illuminate marks within the buildings and shine along walls in the villages. They were at one with the calendar of the sky. The powerful directing this knowledge were high priests as they have been in other societies throughout time all over the earth.

Growing up included participating in the raising of an apple orchard in the central mountains of New Mexico. It lay along a remote mountain side where silence reigned and no city lights were visible beyond a far northern glow. The available labor pool for planting and tending trees were us kids from two families. From the time I was 8 years old, the orchards and that place became planted in my memories eventually growing into legends in my mind.

Time there became the side bar of childhood and youth. We reveled lying out at night trying to count the stars as they appeared and then almost magically overwhelmed us by their infinite numbers. As the years wheeled by, the stars became friends. Constellations became familiar types of people and animals as the patterns named ages ago became clear to me (and I made up a few myself).
Understanding the night sky comes to individuals. Great insight comes through individual pieces of knowledge cobbled into a greater store of understanding beyond the span of individual lives. This is the story of humanity’s rise throughout history over the globe. Here in America when they learned the math of the sky which told them to plant and harvest the Anasazi matched the Chinese accomplishments from centuries before.

The night sky is the original big screen. At this holiday time, it is visible for the longest time of the year. Celebrate the return of the sun, and revel in the glorious beauty of Orion, the Dog Star and the Pleiades as they rise. Look with hope at the setting Summer Triangle while gazing up and out.


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